Six years ago today, I gave birth to my fourth son. It was one of the worst days of my life.
Today is my baby boy’s sixth birthday. As he was stillborn, today is also the sixth anniversary of his death.
In the immediate aftermath of his loss, I wondered how I could ever face moving forward, aching with emptiness as I was. But life does go on. As much as I felt an overwhelming compulsion to never leave home ever again, the weight of grief sitting so heavily on me, I had three other children to take care of. I had to pick up and get on with it. I had to keep going for them. My living children were the life that goes on. Life is to be lived for the living and that is what we do. Our lost baby is very much a part of our family: we can talk about him openly with our living children – including the youngest who was born eight months later – and as a family we have marked his birthday in order to commemorate the part he played in our lives. Our tradition is to do something fun as a family and then do something special, something quiet and reflective, in the evening as we remember him. I believe that with each child you have, you don’t divide the love you have but instead that love multiplies. And so I tell myself that the love I would have given to my lost baby son, I can bestow as extra love upon my four living sons. That’s what we do. That is how we cope.
Exactly a year ago, in an emotionally wretched coincidence of dates, we left our home in Scotland for the last time. Of course, we were not just leaving behind our home, our community, our friends and colleagues, but we were also preparing to leave the country. We were moving our lives forward. Life was going on, as it must, but all the places that had significance in the brief existence of our lost son were also being left behind. Life goes on. And sometimes that is hard.
So we come to this year and, yet again, life is moving on. We have moved into our new house, our permanent house, a place that will become our family home. A home where the six of us will have new experiences, ups and downs, forging new memories. The new house won’t be entwined with our precious memories of our baby’s brief existence as our unborn son. Because life moves forward. Because life moves on. And sometimes that is hard.
Six years on, I can get through most days without his memory being anything other than a tiny, dull ache at the back of my mind, a scrap of pain as tiny as he was, as delicate as he was, as fragile as he was. Other days, the days leading up to and on his birthday or other significant dates, the emotion comes flooding back and I am transported back to the raw anguish of the day he was born.
The saying goes that time heals but that’s not quite true. Time just makes it easier to deal with because you develop coping strategies as time goes on and the raw pain dulls to an ache that some days you might not even notice. Just as with the deaths of my older brothers, 11 and almost 30 years ago, so too with each passing year the grief of our baby’s stillbirth is that little bit easier to bear. Time, however, does not heal. Time has taught us to cope. Grief, in my experience at least, is like a wound that gradually closes and scabs over but the scar is always there nevertheless. Ever so often – such as on a significant date or when something unexpectedly jolts the memory – the raw, searing anguish comes flooding back and it is as if that scab has been torn right off. Gone are the coping strategies, gone is the focus on other things, and beneath that is the grief that is always present, as vulnerable as the new skin beneath the scab.
And so I remember – on a day such as today – that no matter where we now live in the world, no matter how hectic our lives have become, no matter in what ways our lives move forward, because life is for the living, in some significant, special way, our baby son is always with us, whether it is in the form of a cherished memory on the many gentler days or whether it is the pain that returns on the difficult days like today.
Life moves on. Today that is hard.
Thank you for reading.